(Oct. 4, 2013) The Ocean City Council on Tuesday approved a schedule of expenditures this week for the $3.4 million in savings it realized over the last fiscal year, set to include much-anticipated canal dredging as well as extra money for street repairs.
“I think what we’ve learned, and why Ocean City has been so successful, is that we haven’t deferred our maintenance too long,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “If you let it go too long, you never catch up.”
Of the available funds, $1.17 million were realized via projects that the council had bonded out. Nearly $1 million was saved when bids for Boardwalk reconstruction were much lower than anticipated. Another $200,000 was saved in streamlining the design of the new Fire Station 4.
The stipulation of the borrowing agreement limits the use of these funds to other capital projects, however. The city cannot legally borrow money to cover miscellaneous operating expenses.
City Engineer Terry McGean thus recommended that these funds be used to restore some elements of ongoing projects that had been cut earlier. He suggested adding five police cameras and call boxes, as well as additional fiber optic cable, to the Boardwalk. Railing and bench replacements on the lower areas of the Boardwalk were also allotted for.
The savings would further fund decorative lighting on the next phases of the St. Louis Avenue reconstruction project, something the city had cut and tentatively re-funded on the first phase of the project after the Ocean City Development Corporation offered financial assistance. Additional side streets could also be re-paved.
“This is primarily for places where we have utility connections,” McGean said. “Instead of getting a patch, you would get a re-paved street.”
Most importantly, McGean recommended an additional $500,000 be reserved for the renovation of the Ocean City Fire Department’s 15th Street headquarters. The $1.5 million currently allotted for the project might not be enough, he said.
“Our concentration right now, particularly on the St. Louis Avenue side and the fire side, is to make sure we have enough money to finish what we started,” he said.
Tentative plans for the headquarters renovation will include a new roof and façade repairs for the whole building, as well as a small addition on the west side of the facility and a larger addition on its south side. The city will likely hire an architect to do final design over the winter, and construction will take place in the 2014-2015 off-season
“We’ll be bringing that program to you in the next couple weeks,” McGean said.
Besides the savings on bonded projects, the city has over $2.2 million in its general fund balance above its self-enforced reserve limit. The town prefers to keep 15 percent of its annual expenses in cash reserves through the fiscal year, to cover any gaps between the city’s incomes and expenses.
This is especially important given the upcoming hurricane season, which may incur unanticipated costs before the city can recoup its revenues. As such, McGean recommended the city not spend any of its excess until the weather season passes.
Following that, however, McGean suggested that the town earmark $383,410 for street repairs, which would bring the general paving allotment up to the desired $2 million annual level. A 2007 study indicated that the city had over $40 million of street work to do in the next 20 years.
Another $500,000 will go toward canal dredging, an often-discussed initiative to remove silt from the city’s bayside waterways that has never gotten off the ground. The city had originally planned to charge waterfront property owners to raise money for the work, but decided against doing so since the canals are public access waterways. Further, those owners already pay a premium in property tax because of their waterfront location.
“We have three canals – 48th Street, 52nd Street, and Hitchens to Trimper Avenues – that could be done now,” McGean said. “On those three canals total, there is only one bulkhead that still needs work, so we’re in pretty good shape.”
The other major item approved was the replacement of an ambulance in the city’s aging fleet, many of which will soon end their depreciation cycle and have their value plummet.
“Four of our ambulances are about to exceed the 11-year mark,” OCFD Chief Chris Larmore said. “We’re running into more and more problems getting parts for these ambulances.”
“In 2012, we had 121 days with an ambulance out of service,” Larmore said. “For 2013, that increased 15 percent, to the point where we not only had to look into leasing a spare ambulance, we actually had more personnel at some points than we had working ambulances.”
Remaining savings will go towards a number of other minor maintenance needs, such as painting and power washing. McGean said that $45,000 in repairs are needed at the downtown Whiteside Building, where the city houses its trams and Boardwalk maintenance supplies. However, a new solution for the cramped building will likely need to be found in the near future.
“If we thought that was going to be a permanent location for the trams, we’d be asking for a new building instead of a patch, which we’re not,” McGean said.